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New Vehicle Intercom System production facility helps meet growing demand from Iraq, total force units.

MANCHESTER, N.H. -- New Hampshire Congressman Jeb Bradley and Army COL Gale Harrington cut the ribbon to officially open Cobham Defense Electronic Systems' new Vehicle Intercom System production facility Manchester, N.H., May 21, which Army and industry officials agree will help meet growing demand for the highly-coveted VIS both from units in Iraq and for the total force.

The Manchester facility--which actually started the production line going on Jan. 28, 2006--can each month produce more than 4,000 crew station light boxes, one of the modules used in conjunction with Bose-manufactured Improved Tactical Headsets and other modules to comprise the VIS, which allows Soldiers to communicate in the high-noise environments of tactical vehicles being used by the Army in Iraq. With production of the other modules and headsets roughly pacing what's produced at the Manchester facility, Army officials estimate they can equip more than 2,000 vehicles per month with VIS.

Bradley, Representative of New Hampshire's First Congressional, praised the assembled workers of the facility for their efforts. "I'm a member of the House Armed Services Committee, so I know how important your work is and I thank you for it," he said."

Harrington, the Project Manager, Defense Communications and Army Transmission Systems, whose organization--which is part of the Army's Program Executive Office, Enterprise Information Systems--is acquiring the VIS for warfighters, told the workers of a recent temporary duty assignment to Iraq. Soldiers in a unit she visited told her first-hand just how important the VIS is in allowing troops to communicate despite the 95 dB or greater noise levels in M1114 up-armored Humvees, Bradley Fighting Vehicles, and other tactical vehicles.

"At any given time the unit had up to 84 vehicles on the road in Iraq," noted Harrington. "The key to their success is command and control, which the VIS allows them. This is probably one of the most-coveted pieces of equipment in theater, both for convoys and for routine patrols. On behalf of the warfighter, I thank you for everything you're doing here."

After the ribbon cutting, David Gaggin, Cobham's president, and Ralph Marrone, Cobham's general manager, took Bradley on a tour of the Manchester facility, accompanied by Harrington, LTC Clyde Richards, PM DCATS' Product Manager, Defense Wide Transmission Systems, MAJ Ron Claiborne, who manages the effort to acquire VIS for PM DWTS, Suzanne Jenniches and David Watson of Northup Grumman Corporation Electronic Systems, which is the Army's prime contractor and integrator of VIS and Steve Collier and Nick Heyes of Cobham. Gaggin and Marrone took Bradley and the group through the production line as workers assembled the electronic components into the small, aluminum alloy boxes--which were previously cast and covered with a chemical agent resistant coating paint at a foundry in Blackburn, Lancashire, England, where another Cobham facility manufactures other VIS components.

Gaggin told Bradley that, along with low cost of manufacturing and manufacturing-friendly laws and governing bodies in New Hampshire, the highly-skilled technical workforce available in New Hampshire was key to the decision to open the facility there to assist and supplement the existing UK operation.

"A lot of it is the New Hampshire culture," added Marrone. "The workers here take a lot of pride in what they do. They work late, come in on weekends to get the job done."

Gaggin and Claiborne told Bradley that the next step in the evolution of VIS is the integration of wireless technology to allow Soldiers to dismount from vehicles yet maintain full intercom connectivity with Soldiers in the vehicle from up to 600 feet away.

Protects Soldiers' hearing, too

Bradley was pleasantly surprised when Claiborne told him how the VIS not only allows Soldiers intra-vehicular communication through both active and passive noise reduction technology, but that it also protects Soldiers' hearing protection--not only from intra-vehicle noise, but also from improvised explosive device blasts.

"We've been contacted at the VIS program office by Soldiers who have told us how VIS saved their hearing during IED explosions," said Claiborne. "One Soldier said the headset so effectively blocked the noise of the explosion that he only noticed it because of the vibration and shaking of the vehicle."

Claiborne further explained how VIS supports the Army's goal to cut down on the number of Soldiers suffering hearing loss. "The Veterans Administration paid around $1 billion for hearing aids, surgery and treatment for veterans last year," said Claiborne."

A case in point: SPC Robert Cirolia of the 42nd Military Police Brigade was recently wearing a VIS combat vehicle crewman headset, when, as the gunner in the lead vehicle of a convoy in Iraq, an IED blast knocked him unconscious. The convoy commander, 1ST SGT Kelvin Mayes, said "The explosion was so muffled that it didn't affect our hearing at all. The concussion did take out my gunner (Cirolia), but his hearing was saved. I believe it was because of the (VIS)."

"The CVC definitely protected my hearing," said Cirolia, and his doctors concurred, reassuring him that he didn't lose any of his hearing during the blast.

"I know that my team will not travel without (VIS)," Mayes said.

Claiborne noted that the industry partners on the VIS production team--including Cobham, which was honored in 2002 with the Queen's Award for Enterprise, the United Kingdom's most prestigious award for business performance, and Northup Grumman and Bose Corporation, which were honored in 2004 with DoD value engineering awards--are well aware of how coveted the VIS is, and have been working with the Army to keep Soldiers supplied with VIS.

"The demand for VIS is increasing," said Claiborne. "The good news is, the dramatically increased production we've been able to achieve thanks to the efforts of our industry partners will allow the Army to meet that growing demand for VIS products for units both in Iraq and for the total force."

Mr. Larsen is a public affairs officer with Project Manager, Defense Communications and Army Transmission Systems, Fort Monmouth, N.J. Larsen has more than 20 years experience writing about Army systems.
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Title Annotation:Circuit check: News and trends of interest to the Signal Regiment
Author:Larsen, Stephen
Publication:Army Communicator
Date:Jun 22, 2006
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